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How Baylor’s Loss to Washington Last Season Made the Bears the No. 1 Team in America

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The Bears didn’t want to lose their second game last season, but they know that loss made what happened after possible

NCAA Basketball: Oklahoma State at Baylor Raymond Carlin III-USA TODAY Sports

After testing positive for COVID-19, having three games cancelled and searching for days for an opponent, Scott Drew secured a game with Washington on Sunday.

One year ago the Bears met the Huskies in Alaska. Baylor entered that game ranked No. 16. The Bears felt confident they were much better than that ranking. With Davion Mitchell and MaCio Teague eligible, and a massive summer of improvement for Freddie Gillespie, the Bears expected to be a top five team.

Washington had two McDonald’s All-Americans, Jaden McDaniels and Isaiah Stewart. Both left after that season and were selected in the NBA Draft. And for the first 30 minutes, Baylor looked like a top five team, building a nearly insurmountable lead against the duo. The Bears led the Huskies 59-46 with 8:45 remaining. ESPN’s win probability gave Baylor a 96.5% chance to win.

Everything collapsed from there. Baylor scored five points the rest of the way. Washington’s zone and rim protection proved too much. Stewart dominated down low. And the Bears left Alaska 1-1. Plenty of people wondered if the Bears were frauds.

Over the past year, I’ve done features on every starter on last year’s team. Each told me that game helped them achieve their goals last season. Teague said, “We just knew we were better than that.”

After a loss like that, plenty of teams collapse. Maybe the weight of expectations becomes too much. Others start pointing fingers. When a team loses like the Bears did against Washington, it’s easy to point fingers because a defeat like that involves a bevy of mistakes: turnovers that should have never happened, rotations that didn’t get made and players that spent too long upset at the refs instead of playing defense.

The Bears weren’t a weak team though. Instead, Butler said the loss was, “probably the best thing that happened to us. It humbled us a lot. Put us on track to where we need to be. Put us on track and took us down from cloud nine.”

Baylor came back because the players met and understood they couldn’t blow a game like that. Vital said, “We came together and said, ‘We’re not losing anymore.’ We needed someone to step up and be a leader. I looked at all the guys and said, ‘I’ve been here before, I take fully responsibility.”

The team didn’t let Vital take all the blame. He wasn’t responsible for the catastrophe. As Teague said, “The players said, ‘There’s no way we should have lost that game.’ Jared might have the only person that played well.”

Mitchell stepped up too. He said that before the loss, “We knew we were good. (It) felt like we got too comfortable. We got too comfortable and came back. It humbled us.”

And the Bears had the wisdom to know the loss could help put things in proper perspective. As Gillespie said of the loss, “We were of course upset. We realized it was early in the season; a game we definitely could have won. I think with this team, when we get beat, we learn from it. (It was) a good loss. MaCio said, ‘This can be the spark and motivation for a win streak.”

The loss turned out to be a spark for a massive winning streak. Baylor won 23 straight games. That’s the longest streak in the 24 year history of the Big 12. The Bears would reach No. 1 in the polls for five straight weeks, the longest streak since Kentucky in 2015. They’d go on to notch the program’s first win in Allen Fieldhouse, and they were set to earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Baylor doesn’t need to lose to Washington to achieve their goals this season. They’re better than they were that November and Washington’s worse. But what they learned from a loss to Washington in their second game last year should be fully on display if they beat Washington in their second game this year.